Editor’s Corner: A heartbreaking thank you letter that every healthcare professional should read

Editor's corner
Joanne Finnegan

Late last week, a story on the New York Times website with the headline “A Letter to the Doctors and Nurses Who Cared for My Wife” caught my eye. And then I saw the byline: Peter DeMarco. Could it be the Peter DeMarco I worked with years ago in the newspaper business?

The introduction described him as a Boston writer and then there was a photo. It was Peter, a little older looking but still thin as a rail. Standing next to him, their arms lightly around each other, was a beautiful young, dark-haired woman. It was his wife, Laura Levis, and behind them was a lush green vista, which a caption indicated was Scotland, where they had gone hiking together last summer.

But this was no travel story. It was a tale as sad any Greek tragedy. Peter had written a thank you letter to the intensive care staff at CHA Cambridge Hospital who had cared for his wife during the last seven days of her life and helped him cope with the unimaginable. At the age of 34, Laura dies after suffering a massive asthma attack.

But stepping outside his grief, Peter reached out to thank the doctors, nurses, respiratory specialists, social workers and even cleaning staff members who tenderly cared for his wife. “Every single one of you treated Laura with such professionalism and kindness and dignity as she lay unconscious,” he wrote. But that doesn’t begin to convey his intimate description of those days in the hospital as he, family members and friends finally had to say goodbye.

It wasn’t just the care Laura received, but that extended to him and her family that Peter was grateful for. “How many times did you hug me and console me when I fell to pieces, or ask about Laura’s life and the person she was, taking the time to look at her photos or read the things I’d written about her? How many times did you deliver bad news with compassionate words, and sadness in your eyes?” he wrote.

Staff looked the other way when he smuggled their black and white cat Cola into the hospital room for a final lick of Laura’s face. And on that final day, nurses made room for him in the hospital bed so husband and wife could spend a last hour together. “It was a gift beyond gifts,” he wrote.

As a testament to its power, the letter, published in the Times, now has some 789 comments from readers. “You have brought this grumpy middle aged man to tears this morning,” wrote one man. “You have shared something both intimate and sacred with us and we are privileged to get this glimpse into the best parts of humanity.”

Many comments are from healthcare workers. “THANK YOU for reminding me, a nurse, and others like me that our actions and care do make a difference,” wrote a NICU nurse.

“Now I remember why I went into this profession in the first place,” said another nurse.

At a time when burnout and depression is rampant in the healthcare field, Peter’s letter of gratitude struck a chord. “The generosity in expressing your gratitude at a time when you could be silently mourning is profoundly touching for all of us who do this work. It is truly the fuel to keep us going,” said a surgeon and ICU doctor.

“As a long time practicing physician, I think that this should be required reading for all who work in the healthcare professions,” said another.

Amen.

Rest in peace, Laura Levis. And sincere condolences, Peter DeMarco, on the loss of your beloved wife —Joanne (@PracticeMgt)